Supervisors are expected to vote next week on Supervisor Scott Wiener’s backup plan for transportation funding — a charter amendment that, with voter approval, would increase the share of the city’s general fund that gets allocated to Muni, pedestrian safety, and bike infrastructure. That share would be tied to the city’s growing population.
Wiener introduced the measure as a safeguard that would increase transportation funding even if Mayor Ed Lee dropped his plan to put a vehicle license fee increase on the ballot. Lee subsequently did drop his support in June, at least until the 2016 election, so Wiener proposed his stop-gap measure. The legislation includes a provision that would allow the mayor to remove the charter amendment if the vehicle license fee increase is passed in 2016, according to Wiener.
“We are a growing city. We’ve grown by 85,000 people since 2003… and we have not made the investments we need to make sure our transportation system, particularly Muni, keeps up,” Wiener said at a committee meeting last week. “This will help bridge the gap.”
The vehicle license fee increase would have generated about $33 million per year for the SFMTA. The agency’s two-year budget assumed its passage in 2014, along with a $500 million general obligation bond for transportation that supervisors unanimously approved for the ballot yesterday.
Currently, Muni gets about $232 million in general funds annually. If approved, Wiener’s charter amendment would provide a $23 million budget boost in the first year, retroactively accounting for the last ten years of population growth. Seventy-five percent of the new funds would go to Muni, and 25 percent to “street safety measures,” according to Wiener.
“Muni’s been severely underfunded for years,” said Ilyse Magy of the SF Transit Riders Union, which has applauded Wiener’s measure. “It’s essential that measures based on alternative funding strategies be put into place,” she said, noting that Mayor Lee also cut $11 million annually from Muni operations by repealing Sunday parking meters.
It’s unclear if Wiener’s measure has a majority of support from other supervisors. At last week’s Rules Committee hearing, Supervisor David Campos said he’d support the measure, although he urged reforms to the SFMTA’s “governance structure” to make the agency’s Board of Directors “more accountable to the ridership.” He didn’t specify which of the SFMTA Board’s policies he was referring to.
“Unless, I believe, we are able to make a convincing case on that point, these funding measures are going to be challenging to pass,” said Campos. “Money is an important part of the solution, but you can throw all the money in the world at Muni. Unless you change how this agency is managed and how it’s governed, and the lack of accountability that it has, things are not going to change dramatically.”
Supervisor Katy Tang and Norman Yee said they were “uncomfortable” with the measure, because it would siphon off general funds that could be used for other city services. They both still voted to pass it on to the full board, although without a recommendation for which way to vote next Tuesday.
“If voters are faced with two measures that they could see as both funding transportation, I can see some confusion there,” said Tang. “Not to knock the fact that we absolutely have not invested enough in our transportation infrastructure, and I completely agree that we need to do more.”